AUSTIN, Texas — Navy Adm. William McRaven formalized his transition from a top U.S. military commander to academic leader Thursday, officially accepting the job as chancellor of the University of Texas System.
The head of U.S. Special Operations Command will start in January and make $1.2 million annually — nearly a half-million dollars more than his predecessor — according to system officials.
McRaven, 58, has been credited with spearheading the operation that led to the death of Osama bin Laden in a 2011 raid on his compound in Pakistan. He grew up in San Antonio, where the University of Texas has a large academic campus and health center, and has no professional academic experience.
The four-star admiral was also at the helm when Army Delta forces secured the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban in May as part of an exchange for five Afghan detainees from the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention center.
Wearing a suit instead of his highly decorated Naval uniform, McRaven told regents that great universities must adapt to change.
“I have seen the change from my current position in the military. The demographics are changing. The technology is changing. The funding model is changing,” McRaven said. “We must not only keep up with the pace of change — we must lead the change.”
Regents selected McRaven as the finalist for the job last month but could not officially hire him for 21 days. He is set to retire from the military this month after 37 years.
He did not speak to reporters after regents confirmed his appointment, instead shaking hands with university officials before leaving through a back door. He will replace Francisco Cigarroa, who is stepping down after five years.
Regents have said they discussed McRaven’s lack of academic experience but decided he didn’t need it. McRaven is a graduate of the flagship University of Texas at Austin and earned a master’s degree from the Naval Postgraduate School.
He will now take the helm of a system with 15 campuses, 215,000 students and a $14 billion budget. He is also stepping into a potentially volatile atmosphere.
Tension between Cigarroa and the president of the flagship campus in Austin, Bill Powers, have festered for years over academic priorities and communication. Powers recently agreed to step down in June 2015 under a warning from Cigarroa that he could be fired.
One of the regents who confirmed McRaven’s hire also spent much of the past year under the threat of impeachment for his relentless efforts to oust Powers. Lawmakers earlier this month decided to censure Regent Wallace Hall, who had been publicly backed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, instead of pushing for his removal.